Tourism and Sustainable Investing

Sustainable Investing and Green Financing to Accelerate Tourism’s Transition

The World Tourism Day 2023 theme "Tourism and Green Investments" calls to attention the need for sustainable investing solutions that deliver for people and the planet. Our panel shares ideas and insights from different parts of our industry, and highlights examples helping bring more awareness, support, and - crucially - money to scale and mainstream these solutions.
  • Lelei LeLaulu Development Entrepreneur at Earth Council Alliance, SIDS DOCK, Caribbean Media Exchange on Sustainable Tourism
  • Daren Moodely Project Coordinator at Mauritius Tourism Authority
  • Jonathan Coleman CEO at UnTours
  • Caroline Bollrich Business Development Manager at Deutsche Kreditbank (DKB) AG
  • Daniel Verissimo Rewilding Finance Expert at Rewilding Europe
  • Ayako Ezaki Director of Training Strategy and Development at TrainingAid

This year’s World Tourism Day theme is "Tourism and Green Investments". It calls to attention the need for sustainable investing that supports tourism infrastructure development and business solutions that deliver for people and the planet.

As you will learn through this panel, there are already a number of ideas, examples and insights available to help enable the transition our industry needs. What’s needed is more awareness, support, and - crucially - money to scale and mainstream these solutions.

So we invite you to take inspiration from these examples, and work on your own actions to nurture and advocate for solutions that will help move the needle on the most urgent priorities for our industry: investing in the destinations and communities that make travel possible to ensure the health and continuity of our sector. 

What are some good examples of effective funding and investment strategies helping accelerate tourism’s green transition?

Lelei LeLaulu Development Entrepreneur at Earth Council Alliance, SIDS DOCK, Caribbean Media Exchange on Sustainable Tourism

Intelligent, Innovative and Targeted Investment to Harness the Potential of Small Island Destinations

The assets of established tourism destinations are well attended by investors, however, islands, the most desired of tourist destinations, are among the least visited by investment. Increasing targeted investment in these destinations can simultaneously enhance the visitor experience as well as improving the lives of locals. So, here are a few suggestions for targeted investment in small island destinations.

Large ticket items, resorts, airports and cruise terminals, are essential to the visitor industry and should have adequate, and predictable, investment streams. But, let us remember that sustainable and dynamic tourism sectors rely on the active participation of the destinations’ people and their communities, so we should look at targeting investment in areas such as energy, food and infrastructure, which benefits the sector as well as the people keeping it attractive and profitable.

Ocean Based Renewable Energy

Energy costs in islands drain tourism earnings to pay for expensive and polluting oil imports. So, let’s point the sultans of sustainable financing and their investment portfolios to ocean based renewable energy generation systems such as Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC), which generates energy from the exchange of warmer surface water with cooler water from the depths, as well as wave and current systems. There are other dividends too: by-products of OTEC, for example, include mariculture, vegetable growth and fresh water from condensation.

Sustainable Local Food Supply Chains

Tourists savor and actively seek out local culinary delicacies. However, islands import the bulk of their food from abroad, and too often tourists discover their dinners came on the same plane. Targeted investment in local agriculture can increase revenue for farmers by directly supplying tourism facilities - and strengthening national food security. Investment support for dynamic farm-to-fork programs will serve the hunger of visitors for local cuisines, and provide sustainable income for farmers, and those on the local supply chain to eateries populated by tourists, and for residents’ tables.

Connecting Islands to Global Markets

Airlines are the lifeblood of tourism and we should treat them as aerial highways which fly in tourists and their spending power, and fly goods and services to global markets so islands are not mired in the stagnant backwaters of the world economy. Aerial highways, like terrestrial highways, are essential elements of our infrastructure. And infrastructure, as an economist pointed out, is basically a way of spreading wealth. Public sector investment in aerial highways already attracts significant private sector investment, unlike terrestrial highways which remain a major governmental cost item.

Tourism is one of the world economy’s most dynamic sectors, but many local tourism enterprises, especially in poorer destinations, are surviving on little support. These destinations offer a long list of potentially lucrative opportunities, whose values could be increased significantly with intelligent, innovative and targeted investment. So why not be more adventurous and check them out?

Daren Moodely Project Coordinator at Mauritius Tourism Authority

Green Financing for Tourism SMEs in Mauritius

Tourism serves as a catalyst for economic growth in Mauritius, yet it continues to be confronted with a multitude of challenges encompassing impartial revenue generation, resource utilisation, waste management, and evolving customer preferences.

The Sustainable Island Mauritius project (co-funded by the European Union, from 2018 to 2022), champions a pro-handprint innovation approach, aspiring to envision a destination where the whole of the tourism value chain develops sustainable tourism products through innovation, ultimately leading to tourism creating sustainable solutions for local challenges.

This initiative strives to support tourism operators in integrating sustainability principles into their daily operations, aiming to achieve a Green Destination status by 2030. The Tourism Authority facilitates this transition through capacity building, workshops, co-creation meetings, personalised coaching, and various awareness campaigns targeting both tourism stakeholders and the public.

Green Financing to Support Tourism's Sustainable Growth

A critical aspect we focus on is Green Financing, where we utilise our platform to educate tourism operators about current and upcoming opportunities for financing sustainable equipment and products. Our project is geared towards aiding small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the tourism sector to transition towards a new, innovative, and sustainable growth trajectory. However, many SMEs face significant challenges in accessing finance, including high-interest rates, complex application procedures, and stringent collateral requirements.

To address this issue, we engaged in discussions with the Mauritius Bankers Association in 2022, which led to the e-pamphlet "Applying Green Strategies for Building Back Better", helping enhancing SMEs' competitiveness through resources and advice on:
1. Understanding green financing opportunities available to tourism SMEs;
2. Exploring the various financing schemes that support the green transition and subsequent investments; and
3. An e-directory showcasing organizations offering green and innovative technologies.

This e-pamphlet has been widely distributed to tourism operators and is easily accessible for download.

We firmly believe that these initiatives help set Mauritius on the course to emerge as a prominent and sustainable island destination.

Sustainability Leadership at the Policy Level to Promote Bold Measures

Going green is usually associated with a substantial amount of up-front investment in some areas of activities where capex are involved. While the returns are positive on the medium to long term, SME’s do find this investment as a financial burden, especially when they don’t have access to the support from financial institutions and/or the authorities.

It is thus important that policy makers activate bold measures to encourage green transitions at all levels of the economy through special schemes to support the SME’s on specific investments that would be of added value to the industry. For example, schemes to attract investors in green technologies can be supported as a way to boost a diversified and competitive environment. Third party certification is another area of concrete actions that can be supported by policy makers, ensuring that the impacts of green investments are being measured and thereafter recognised, for the benefit of the destination.

Jonathan Coleman CEO at UnTours

Channeling More Capital to Small Businesses with Big Impacts

The UnTours Foundation launched the Reset Tourism Fund specifically to solve the problem of access to capital for small tourism businesses who have embedded positive social and environmental impact into their operations.

Small businesses represent 80% of tourism enterprises, but not enough funding is flowing to these companies on the frontlines of the travel industry who are rooted in local communities, creating local jobs, and playing a key role in the tourism value chain. More capital – specifically more flexible and affordable capital – needs to go to these businesses.

There is immense potential in the collective actions of these small enterprises if they can expand their operations and scale their sustainability and community benefit efforts, particularly if aligned investors can provide technical assistance in these areas (as we do).

Through the Reset Tourism Fund, we are creating the roadmap for this model of transformation and hope many other investors follow in our footsteps, because the world needs these businesses to accelerate their movement towards more sustainable operations, and that movement takes capital.

Scaling Sustainability Leaders to Accelerate Change

In order to facilitate the change we want to see in the world, investors need to find a way to do small, at scale. The microfinance industry has walked that path (though not without some valid critique), but we need to find a way to help those most successful small businesses scale up their business operations and sustainability efforts.

We don’t want the most successful, sustainable micro or small businesses to stay that size. If they’re setting the standard from a sustainability perspective, and doing so in a way that produces profits, then it’s incumbent upon impact-focused investors to find ways to get them the capital they need and deserve.

There are a few small funds (like ours) out there, but not nearly enough. It’s not easy. It takes flexibility, creativity, and a comfort with risk. But the rewards are immense if we can figure it out.

Caroline Bollrich Business Development Manager at Deutsche Kreditbank (DKB) AG

Green Investments to Support the Energy Transition of Hotels

In each tourism section – whether its’ transport, accommodation or activities – there are different focus areas when it comes to investments. Regarding the hotel sector, we see more and more hotels incorporating a sustainable approach, with a major focus on the environmental dimension, in particular the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

When you are looking at a hotel there are a few areas you can prioritize to reduce your emissions, e.g sourcing food locally, reducing waste or encouraging guests to take public transport to reach the destination where the hotel is located. One of the most significant but also more costly impact areas for emissions reductions is making changes to the building itself or the energy system the hotel is using to heat, cool or illuminate the building. Hotel owners can install solar panels on their roofs, invest in energy storage solutions or renovate the building to make it more energy efficient or even energy self-sufficient. Investments are essential for this transformation. That’s why the role of banks is as important as ever by giving out loans to support the transition that hotels are going through to stay in line with the Paris Agreement.

Deutsche Kreditbank AG (DKB) has worked with Hotel Rehlegg in Bavaria to support the hotel’s sustainability journey. For German speakers, more information on this example is available through this podcast episode ("Entschieden Nachhaltig" #3 Wellness-Hotel Nachhaltigkeit umsetzen mit Hannes Lichtmannegger vom Hotel Rehlegg).

Investing in Sustainable Solutions Beyond the Four Walls of Your Hotel

One thing I would like to see more in loan requests is hotels thinking more from a destination perspective rather than focusing solely on each individual business.

Today, the installation of solar panels on roofs is widespread and it is important for hotel owners to keep up with technological developments in order to benefit from them. However, hotels also have important opportunities to help scale sustainability solutions, when their investment decisions take the whole destination and surrounding communities into consideration.

This may mean, for example, using heat generated from industrial waste of local businesses (such as bakeries) as an energy source; or cooperating with community stakeholders to install wind turbines to produce energy for the whole community, including for households and businesses like hotels alike.

Any hotel owner, when planning to make some large investments in their building, should consider the following questions:

  • What can I give back to make this destination a better place for visitors and locals alike?
  • Who else could benefit from it?
  • With whom can I cooperate to find the best possible local solution to make my business and the destination more sustainable?
Daniel Verissimo Rewilding Finance Expert at Rewilding Europe

Rewilding Europe Capital: scaling up Europe's nature-based economies

At Rewilding Europe we want to show that rewilding and wildlife comeback can support the growth of new business, jobs and income. By building this "business case for the wild", we can provide new opportunities for Europe's rural economies – which today are often associated with economic stagnation and decline, rural depopulation, and land abandonment. With nature-based tourism, one of the fastest-growing tourism sectors in Europe, the potential for growth is significant.    

Yet despite its capacity to breathe new life into rural economies and communities, the recovery of nature is not always perceived as an economic opportunity. Europeans, who mostly live in nature-deprived urban areas, are looking for true nature-based tourism opportunities - not just destinations with breathtaking views, but landscapes where exciting wildlife is abundant and accessible. At the moment, truly wild areas in Europe are rare and often lack the type of nature-based tourism experiences available in other places, such as Africa and North America.

Rewilding Europe Capital (REC) provides commercial loans to nature-based enterprises across Europe that either want to start operating or scale up their business. The primary geographical focus is on Rewilding Europe's rewilding landscapes, where wildlife populations are recovering thanks to natural comeback and targeted reintroductions. Flexible interest rates and repayment terms are complemented by the expertise of the Rewilding Europe Capital team, meaning the support package on offer is both comprehensive and long-term.

While the investment mandate for Rewilding Europe Capital is diverse, one of the main focus areas is nature-based tourism, which encompasses wildlife watching, nature guiding, accommodation, and local food products. This type of investment shows local communities that wilder nature can provide direct economic benefits, and that more wildlife is not just good news from an ecological perspective, but a commercial one too.  

Examples of such investments include loans made to WeWilder, a sustainable rewilding campus in Romania which provides bison tracking tours and sustainable accommodation, Wildlife Adventures, an Italian company offering guided tours and accommodation in old shepherd's huts; and Wildlife Portugal, a professional nature guide company in Portugal, which offers birdwatching tours and wildlife hide experiences.

Ayako Ezaki Director of Training Strategy and Development at TrainingAid

Sustainable Investing Examples and Resources for and by Tourism Organizations

As highlighted in the UNWTO World Tourism Day Concept Note, smart and strategic investment in tourism destinations, businesses and organizations supporting climate action, sustainability innovation, and green transition will result in significant return for our sector.

“[Tourism] infrastructure has suffered from chronic underinvestment for decades. … At the same time, funding for climate tech start-ups is not at the level needed to truly transform the sector. Investments that integrate sustainability measures into tourism operations will have an effect on most of the drivers of the sector’s growth: cost efficiency, city policies, internal sustainability goals, brand image, and guest satisfaction.”


Here are some examples of programs, mechanisms and resources promoting sustainable investing and green financing solutions led by, built for and working with tourism organizations around the world.

African Nature Based Tourism Platform

With $1,903,000 in funding from the Global Environment Facility, the African Nature-Based Tourism Platform helps connect funders to the communities and SMEs most in need of funding support, with a goal of mobilizing at least $15 million to support tourism recovery efforts and to build greater resilience into the nature-based tourism business model into the future.

Coast Fund

Coast Funds, a leading Indigenous-led conservation finance organization in the Great Bear Rainforest and Haida Gwaii areas of British Columbia, Canada, partners with First Nations communities to build and invest their endowed funds to sustainably finance stewardship authorities for generations to come.

Green Finance Platform

Green Finance Platform, one of the three arms of the Green Growth Knowledge Partnership, is a global network of organizations and experts that address major knowledge gaps in sustainable finance. Here are research papers, reports and resources addressing solutions related to investment and financing supporting the transition to low-carbon, resource-efficient and socially-inclusive tourism development.

TreadRight Foundation

TreadRight Foundation, the non-profit foundation supported by The Travel Corporation (TTC), works with local partners around the world to help implement and facilitate various projects. Aligned with TTC’s net zero commitment, key projects focused on nature-based solutions and conservation efforts - from rewilding in Scotland, citizen science in Botswana, to regenerative ocean farming in CT, USA.

UNEP Finance Initiative - Blue Finance

Based on the 2021 report “Turning the Tide: How to Finance a Sustainable Ocean Recovery’, which provides guidance for financial institutions to lead a sustainable ocean recovery, here are sector-specific examples and recommendations on how to sustainably finance the coastal and marine tourism sector.